United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
MUSTAFA T. KASUBHAI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rebecca L. brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c) seeking judicial review of a
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the
Social Security Act (“Act”). All parties have
consented to allow a Magistrate Judge to enter final orders
and judgment in this case in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 73
and 28 U.S.C § 636(c). For the reasons that follow, the
Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
October 6, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and
SSI alleging disability as of December 18, 2014. Tr. 208-09,
210-15. The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's
application initially, and upon reconsideration, after which
Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 139-47, 156-57. The hearing
was held on October 25, 2017 via video conference. Tr. 15.
Plaintiff testified, as did an impartial vocational expert
(“VE”). Tr. 15. The ALJ determined Plaintiff was
not disabled and issued a decision on November 15, 2017
denying her claim. Tr. 12-24. On February 7, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. Tr. 1-11. Plaintiff timely filed this complaint
for review of the Commissioner's final decision.
Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla; it means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). This Court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). “Where
the evidence as a whole can support either a grant or a
denial, [this Court] may not substitute [its] judgment for
the ALJ's.” Massachi v. Astrue, 486 F.3d
1149, 1152 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted).
engages in a five-step sequential inquiry to determine
whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The five-step
sequential inquiry is summarized below, as described in
Tackett v. Apfel, 180 F.3d 1094, 1098- 99 (9th Cir.
One: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant is
engaged in substantial gainful activity. A claimant who is
engaged in such activity is not disabled. If the claimant is
not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner
proceeds to evaluate the claimant's case under step two.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b).
Two: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
has one or more severe impairments. A claimant who does not
have any such impairment is not disabled. If the claimant has
one or more severe impairment(s), the Commissioner proceeds
to evaluate the claimant's case under step three. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c).
Three: Disability cannot be based solely on a severe
impairment; therefore, the Commissioner next determines
whether the claimant's impairment “meets or
equals” one of the presumptively disabling impairments
listed in the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) regulations, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. A claimant who has an impairment that meets a
listing is presumed disabled under the Act. If the
claimant's impairment does not meet or equal an
impairment in the listings, the Commissioner's evaluation
of the claimant's case proceeds under step four. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
Four: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to perform work he or she has done in the past. A
claimant who can perform past relevant work is not disabled.
If the claimant demonstrates he or she cannot do past
relevant work, the Commissioner's evaluation of
claimant's case proceeds under step five. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(e), 404.1520(f), 416.920(e),
Five: The Commissioner determines whether the claimant
is able to do any other work. A claimant who cannot perform
other work is disabled. If the Commissioner finds claimant is
able to do other work, the Commissioner must show that a
significant number of jobs exist in the national economy that
claimant is able to do. The Commissioner may satisfy this
burden through the testimony of a vocational expert
(“VE”), or by reference to the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. If the
Commissioner demonstrates that a significant number of jobs
exist in the national economy that the claimant is able to
perform, the claimant is not disabled. If the Commissioner
does not meet the burden, the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g).
steps one through four of the sequential inquiry, the burden
of proof is on the claimant. Tackett, 180 F.3d at
1098. If the claimant satisfies her burden with respect to
the first four steps, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner regarding step five. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g). At step five, the Commissioner's
burden is to demonstrate that the claimant can make an
adjustment to other work after considering the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age,
education, and work experience. Id.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial
gainful activity in 2014 and part of 2015 but stopped this
activity in the third quarter of 2015. Tr. 18. Nonetheless,
Plaintiff did experience a twelve-month period during her
claimed time of disability where she did not engage in
substantial gainful activity, allowing for further analysis.
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: history of left shoulder bursitis/rotator cuff
tear, status post 2014 surgical repair; complex regional pain
syndrome involving the left upper extremity; degenerative
disc disease of the cervical spine, status post September
2017 surgery; and mild-to-moderate bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's
left knee problems, adjustment disorder, and post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”) were not severe,
medically determinable impairments. Tr. 19.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 19.
to step four, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity allowed her to perform light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she
can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but must avoid
climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Tr. 19. She can
frequently reach overhead with the left upper extremity,
frequently grip, twist or grasp with the left hand, and her
right-hand gross manipulative capacity is not limited.
Id. Because of chronic pain and medication side
effects, the ALJ limited Plaintiff to simple routine,
repetitive tasks and determined that she must avoid all
exposure to workplace hazards. Id.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past
relevant work as a materials handler, production assembler,
or caregiver. Tr. 22.
five, the ALJ concluded that based upon the VE's
testimony and considering the Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, Plaintiff would be capable of
making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 22.
Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff could perform work as
an usher or as a parking lot attendant. Tr. 23. Therefore,
the ALJ found Plaintiff was “not disabled.”
argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find
Plaintiff's mental impairments to be severe; (2)
improperly rejecting medical opinions; and (3) ...